It is thought that one in five people in the UK may have early stage liver disease but are unaware of it. Liver disease is a silent killer and people often don’t know that they have a problem until it is too late. It is, however, detectable and if caught early, is treatable, can be halted or even reversed by making simple lifestyle changes.
Several organisations across Cheshire & Merseyside, supported by the Champs Public Health Collaborative, with funding from Public Health England (PHE), are working to address the issue of excessive alcohol consumption and its risk to health, through diagnosis and by helping people moderate their drinking habits.
To support these efforts pilot projects are being launched in January 2020 to provide free liver scanning services in a variety of settings across Cheshire & Merseyside.
This painless scan is a form of ultrasound that can measure inflammation in the liver, a key marker of liver disease caused by excessive alcohol use. The scan itself only takes 10 minutes and the aim, where indicated, is to have an honest, non-judgemental conversation about alcohol intake, then refer and encourage people to get support when they need it.
A key aim for the projects is to use national and local intelligence to identify those areas with the highest levels of need (or unmet need) and provide new ways for those individuals to engage with our services. Important groups to reach will include alcohol dependent parents, the homeless, minority ethnic communities, high earners in professional jobs, older people and LGBTQ communities. New pathways will be tested, with more integrated working across the whole system, so that many more people can access the services and result in the reduction in harm from alcohol across Cheshire & Merseyside.
Julie Webster, Lead Director of Public Health (DPH) for Alcohol Harm in Cheshire & Merseyside and DPH for Wirral Council said of the project:
“This innovative project is an exciting opportunity to test out how we can have different conversations with people on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Our aim is to identify those sites that have the potential to have the greatest impact on this complex issue.”
The following services will begin using the Fibroscans in early January 2020:
Change, Grow, Live (CGL)
CGL provides the community substance misuse services for St Helens, Wirral, Knowsley, Halton, Cheshire East and Warrington. Mobile liver scanning will be offered across all of these areas and a timetable, with when and where the service will be available will be communicated prior to the service commencing in January.
Health Improvement Team and Peel House Medical Plaza
In Halton the liver scan will be included in the free NHS Health Check (which is offered to people aged 40 to 74). These health checks are automatically offered every 5 years via a letter from your GP surgery or the Health Improvement Team. In addition, plans to offer workplace assessments are being developed and further details will be communicated in January.
Liverpool Community Alcohol Service (LCAS)
The liver scan will be offered as part of the referral assessment by LCAS working in partnership with Aintree Hospital, Mersey Care and GPs across Liverpool, Sefton and Knowsley. This service can be accessed by self-referral, or from the GP, as well as other healthcare organisations across these areas.
Roll out of the project is well timed to coincide with the Dry January campaign run by Alcohol Change UK, which aims to get people to take a break from drinking alcohol for the month. It is hoped that the campaign will encourage people to think more carefully about their drinking habits and as a result be more open to consider a liver scan when it is offered.
Plans will be developed with Cheshire West and Chester Council to roll out the Fibroscans in the second phase of this project (expected to commence from mid-2020).